Well, it's Friday, so I'm doing a list, but it's not a list of book lists. (The ol' Interwebs seemed very devoid of book lists this week.)
Instead I've decided to take a break from nonfiction and list All the Things That Are Wrong with Curtis Sittenfeld's New Novel Eligible.
The context: Eligible is a modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and of course, because I am addicted to all things Jane Austen, I had to read it. I had it from the library and was bored just looking at it for some reason, so I took it back. And then a friend of mine read it and demanded that I read it also so we could talk about it. (This list's for you, hon, as an opening salvo.)
It was not really fair of me to read this book, because I have never been a fan of Curtis Sittenfeld, who had big hits in her novels Prep and American Wife, both of which bored me to tears.* So, there's your backstory.
1. Sittenfeld has made our heroines, Jane and Lizzy Bennet, forty and thirty-eight, respectively. Okay, sure. She's updating it, she can do what she wants. But making the sisters older makes this a different story (in the original, Lizzy, by her own admission, "is not yet one-and-twenty," and Jane is slightly older). It makes it, in fact, Persuasion, where Anne Elliot is considered old at twenty-eight. In Pride & Prejudice, no one was really thinking (yet) that the girls were poor marriage material because they were too old.
2. Sittenfeld has set the book in Cincinnati, which is fine, actually. I like the American setting and I love me a good Midwestern city. But is she trying to make it the drabbest city ever? The city where the only landmark of note is a chili restaurant? For all the interest she shows in actually showing Cincinnati she could have set this book anywhere. Or nowhere.
3. In the original, it seemed like Lizzy's and Jane's (and the three other Bennet girls') father was, you know, various things. Suffering a bit, maybe, for picking a pretty wife who could have used a bit more going on upstairs. He seems a bit standoffish. Lazy, most likely. And definitely funny. In this one he just seems mean.**
4. Okay, Sittenfeld, other characters constantly commenting on the ST (sexual tension) between Lizzy and Darcy doesn't actually make for ST between Lizzy and Darcy. There is none. And can we stop using the abbreviation ST? It sounds like a terrible tagline to convince people that getting herpes is fun or something: "Herpes: Putting the ST back in STDs!"
5. Yes, yes, we get it, this is modern times, Jane has sex with Bingley on the first date and Lizzy and Darcy realize they are made for each other while engaging in frequent "hate sex." Related to Number 4: for the amount of hate sex and ST that supposedly goes on in this book, it is the least sexy and least ST-y book I have ever read in my life.
6. One of the most fun characters of all time, bossy old lady and grouch Catherine de Bourgh, appears here as a feminist icon who Lizzy interviews for work, and has no connection to either her or Darcy.
7. The chapters veer oddly from being one page long to fifteen or more. The book also feels about 100 pages too long. Editor? Was there an editor involved?
8. The title, "Eligible," comes from the fact that Chip Bingley (Jane's intended) appeared on a "The Bachelor"-like show called "Eligible." I cannot comment on this ridiculous subplot, as by the time I came to the last hundred or so pages of the book and it seemed to focus almost entirely on the minutiae of filming such a show, with both Jane and Chip (and the rest of the Bennet family) appearing on it, I couldn't stand the boredom anymore and just started skimming.
9. The twist concerning Lydia's marriage actually makes Lydia seem like an open-minded and likable person. That does not seem like the Lydia Bennet in the original. I'm just saying.
Bleah. Bleah bleah bleah. Of course, Sittenfeld is a critical darling, so you can read more positive reviews of this book here*** and here, if you are so inclined.
*In all fairness, I didn't get far enough into Prep to even say that I've read it. I think I got about twenty pages in and realized I didn't care one iota about one word of it I'd read, and took it back to the library.
**Although he was the source of the one line that made me laugh in this novel, when he and Lizzy are at a doctor's appointment: "'Fred!' the nurse said, though they had never met. 'How are we today?'
Reading the nurse's name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm. 'Bernard! We're mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?'" (p. 82.) You're welcome. That's the only exchange in the entire book that seems vaguely reminiscent of Austen's flair for the funny.
***In this article I learned that Cincinnati is actually the author's hometown. I honestly would never have guessed.